“I write every morning between 6-7 a.m.,” says Honorée Corder, the author of You Must Write a Book and Prosperity for Writers. “There’s an alarm to remind me at 5:58 a.m. (in case I need more coffee), and I set a second alarm for 7 a.m. I write until the second alarm goes off. Speaking of coffee, the moment I wake up and smell the freshly brewed pot is my trigger it’s almost time to start writing. I do a quick meditation, brush my teeth, put on my workout clothes, and pour a cup of coffee. Those four actions precede my writing.”
Habit triggers like this can work almost magically to spark a desired routine. You may already have habit triggers operating in your life. For example, when you finish eating breakfast and put the dishes in the sink or dishwasher, that may be your signal to brush your teeth. Or when you pick up your house keys on the way out the door, that gesture may remind you to also check if your phone is in your pocket.
In pre-COVID times, I went every Tuesday to a Shut Up & Write group that met at a café. By design, I would get off the streetcar halfway there and walk the rest of the way. Every time, I would order the same big cup of tea, and sit at the same end of the big table set aside for writers.
Those three practices – the brisk walk, ordering tea, and settling into my familiar chair – became habit triggers for me. No matter what else was happening out in the world or inside my head that day, once my butt was in that chair, I couldn’t seem to do anything but write. I was triggered.
I’ve read about writers who light a candle every time they sit down to write. Or always put on the same ratty bathrobe. Or say a prayer first to Bragi, the Norse god of poetry and eloquence.
According to Atomic Habits author James Clear, useful habit triggers are often based on:
- Time of day — E.g., starting to write at exactly 1 pm on Mondays and Wednesdays.
- Specific location – Such as a chair you sit in only when you’re writing.
- Preceding event – Like writing as soon as you get back from dropping the kids at school.
A habit trigger can be any circumstance or event that will let the writer in you know that it’s time to get started. What could become a writing habit trigger for you?